Council for the Preservation of Anthropological Records
to helping anthropologists, librarians, archivists,
information specialists and others preserve and provide
access to the
records of human diversity and the history of the discipline.
Creating Records That Will Last
Anthropological work focuses on both the present and the past. Many
anthropologists think about the future of their records, and their
possible usefulness to the discipline, both to further research in
similar fields or topics, and to history. With this in mind, CoPAR
has written this series of bulletins to help focus attention on archival
aspects of research: the care, preservation, donation, use, and ethics
of these by-products of anthropological work. There is another question
to address: how to create records that last.
CoPAR Bulletin No. 3 — Easy Steps for Preserving Your Anthropological
Records — provides some useful information relevant to creating
long-lasting records. CoPAR Bulletins Nos. 13 and 14 have information
relevant to preserving photographic materials and audiovisual materials
respectively. This bulletin will provide an annotated list of materials
that are best to use as well as those that are best avoided, in the
mundane but critical production of records.
When you create records, you should use basic, good quality materials
that will last, and document and organized them after each project.
Should your research materials be placed in an archival repository,
archivists will process your records and provide archival quality
storage, as well as professional arrangement and description (which
will follow your own documentation). The following information is
provided to help busy anthropologists who want to ensure the longevity
of their papers, photographs, and audiovisual materials, may not be
funded for the more expensive archival housing and storage of them,
and want to do as much as they can as simply as possible.
Especially relevant here is the section in CoPAR Bulletin No.3:
Step 2: Know Your Formats. For all media: beware of plastics except
archival polyester; avoid colored paper, yellow pads, manila envelopes,
and glue of any kind. Never use felt tipped pens. Tests for longevity
(i.e. the stability and color-fastness of inks) are carried out on
printer and photocopy inks. Ordinary pens (rarely tested) can be problematic:
their ink, especially in ballpoint pens, can fade, or in the case
of felt-tipped pens, bleed through paper. Note that India ink, though
it will not fade, can be highly acidic and eat through paper.
The following information relates to materials for creating records;
for preservation and storage, See CoPAR Bulletins Nos. 3, 12, and
Paper based records:
- Paper: Use acid free paper. Though archival
supply catalogues carry acid free bond paper it is usually expensive;
regular paper suppliers carry inexpensive acid free paper. Note
that, because of Federal (and much State) requirements for the use
of acid free paper in creating government records, much paper is
currently acid-free even when it does not say so. To test paper,
an inexpensive acid-tester pen is available from many of the supply
catalogues listed in CoPAR Bulletin No. 11.
- Paper: Do not use: yellow (or any other color)
note pads; colored paper of any kind; brown wrapping paper; manila
- Do not use rubber bands for long-term storage,
as they will harden and snap in pieces, or soften and expand. Keep
things together by using folders.
- Use stainless steel, plastic-covered, or plastic paper clips.
Staples are acceptable for temporary storage; archivists may remove
- Folders: Regular, clean, manila folders are adequate for regular
- Do not use labels as they will eventually fall
off; if you must use them, write the file title underneath the label,
in pencil. If you have good funding, buy acid free folders from
archival catalogues. Write in pencil, not ink or ballpoint.
- Notebooks: both spiral-bound and gummed edge notebooks can provide
problems later – gum may deteriorate and pages become loose,
metal spirals can rust, and are bulky to store, and can damage neighboring
files. It is good practice to date and number the pages of all notebooks
from the beginning.
- Binders: Plastic binders are almost always made of polyvinylchloride
(PVC) and contribute to serious deterioration of paper, photographs,
etc. even in the short term. Papers may tear away from the metal
rings. Labels on PVC may, over time, produce ooze and grease. If
plastic binders are used for convenience transfer all notes, papers,
photographs into file folders as soon as possible.
Photographs & Film:
Local photographic suppliers can also be helpful; or contact a curator
or archivist in a local institution for help or recommendations.
- Slides are intended for use, and make poor archival materials
since exposure to the projector bulb will inevitably contribute
to deterioration over time.
- Fujichrome film is recommended for slides. Kodachrome is ideal
for slides that will hardly ever be projected (archival or master
- Slides need to be shown. Any documentary slide should be duplicated
and/or printed: they can be turned into enlarged color photocopies
at copy shops which have special equipment.
- For prints and negatives: most good quality, brand-name film
from recognized manufacturers is acceptable for longevity. Black
and white will always be more stable than color film, but color
film has improved its stability considerably. Kodak and Fuji both
make excellent film which lasts.
- The paper on which negatives are printed is also important. Avoid
wax-coated prints (used in regular film processing) if possible.
Fujicolor papers are excellent (Fujicolor Paper Super FA Type 3,
or Fujicolor Supreme Paper SFA3, for example); Konica color paper
is good (Konica Color QA Paper, either Type A5, A3, Professional
Type X2, or super glossy A3).
- Printers (and their inks) used to create hardcopy of digital
images undergo testing for longevity and stability. Many printers
currently produce stable images: Kodak XL 7700 Series digital printers,
for example, are excellent, as are Agfa Digital Printing Systems
and Canon Color Laser copier/printers. Technology in this area changes
rapidly, and it is worth consulting experts.
- Motion picture film (color negative): Fujicolor negative films
are recommended, as is Eastman Color negative film. For color print
film, Fujicolor Positive film is also good.
- Do not use PVC sleeves or binders for prints or negatives even
for short term storage; do not use manila envelopes or any other
acidic paper for storing or mounting prints.
Magnetic media does not last long, and cassette tape life is from
ten to thirty years. Reel to reel is preferable for archival tapes.
However, cassette tape recording is efficient and most frequently
- Always use new, good quality, brand-name tapes from recognized
- Buy only 60 minute cassette tapes.
- Do not use once-used audio tapes for documentary recording.
- It's helpful to always record an opening identification on every
- Make at least two, preferably three, copies. Keep one archival
master copy unused. Document and label all copies accordingly.
- When making transcriptions, make an additional tape for use;
pausing, rewinding, and forwarding create considerable wear and
tear on the tape, and may cause permanent distortion.
- transcribe and print all critical interviews or other important
recorded data; this is the only format that will ensure a life span
beyond 30 years
- Place documentary tapes in archival plastic cases (from archival
As mentioned for audiotapes, magnetic media has a short life, and
video technology in particular continues to be developed as archival
concerns are voiced. Current life is not fully known. Depending on
environment, storage conditions and use, it can be anywhere from ten
to thirty years. Archival consultants predict a shorter life than
manufacturers. See CoPAR Bulletin No. 13 for information on magnetic
- Always use new, good quality, brand-name tapes from recognized
- Do not use extended-play videotapes (the tape base is thinner).
Use 60 minute tapes.
- Do not use once-used videotapes for documentary recording.
- Before recording, wind the tape from one side to the other and
back again, to relieve any possible stresses in the tape.
- Always make at least 2 high quality copies, immediately: an archival
master and a use copy. However, it is even better to make 3 copies:
a master, a reference copy, and a use copy. Any duplication can
be made from the reference copy, which will otherwise not be used.
Make sure the master is not ever played: use the reference copy
to create new copies and do not use it to view the tape. Document
and label all versions accordingly.
- It’s common practice to tape an introductory identification
on video, as with audiotapes.
- Do not leave the tape in the video recorder for a long time,
such as overnight.
- Do not eject a tape in the middle of a recording.
- Pausing a tape for a long time can also contribute to poor image
- Fast-forwarding contributes to rapid deterioration.
- Document all tapes so they do not need to be played unnecessarily.
- When playing tapes, make sure the equipment is operating properly;
malfunctioning or dirty equipment will cause damage.
- Deterioration can occur rapidly in videotapes. Copy your important
tapes every 5 to 7 years (if necessary, have them copied professionally).
- Place documentary videos in archival plastic cases (from archival
CDs are convenient, and their lifespan depends as much on software
as anything else. Lifespan has been predicted of from 20 to 30 years.
As with magnetic media, software is a crucial factor in compatibility
and use. Deterioration can be sudden and unrecognized, and is caused
by physical stress in handling including bending and pressure, poor
storage (heat, light or humidity), dirt, grit, and scratches, and
general aging and warping.
- Use quality CDs from brand name manufacturers.
- Keep informed as technology changes, and obtain information from
- Store in plastic cases that have a tray to hold the CD in place.
- Store vertically away from heat and light, in a cool, dry, dark
- Handle carefully, holding by the edge. Do not bend or drop them.
Do not mail them.
- Don’t rub them or brush them. If they must be cleaned used
only compressed air or a damp cloth (use distilled water), gently
working from the center to the edge.
Digital preservation is a topic to be addressed in a forthcoming
CoPAR Bulletin No. 15. It goes far beyond buying good CDs or ZIP discs,
and backing up one's records and data. However, key factors will be
to reformat digital media (on a regular basis, such as every 7 or
10 years), and to keep abreast of new archival information and technology,
as research produces longevity information, new materials, new equipment,
and suggested solutions.
A Note on Boxes: Although these are storage items, the organization
of newly created records depends to a large extent on how they are
stored. The following information may be useful:
These are 15"x12"x10" cardboard
boxes with separate lids. Storing records in cartons generally
occurs when files are emptied for continued storage. Use new
cartons with lids; ideally they should be acid free (such as Paige
and Hollinger archival boxes). Never reuse beer or produce boxes,
or any other old boxes which might have insects, mould, or other
organisms which will contribute to destruction. Archival catalogues
supply acid-free cartons, which are ideal and relatively inexpensive.
- New non-archival cartons, obtainable from office supply stores,
will keep papers clean and tidy until proper archival storage
can be afforded. They will, in the long run, contribute to discoloring
and deterioration of paper. Do not use oversized cartons—the
carton should be approximately 15” long by 12” wide
by 16” tall. Anything larger will be too heavy to manage,
and is easily dropped, broken, and crushed.
- Document boxes: archival catalogues supply smaller document
boxes for file folders, in letter and legal sizes; they come in
and 2.5” widths. They are non-acidic, expensive and worth
the cost. Usually there are two varieties: a less expensive blue
or grey box (contains lignin—a part of wood pulp which eventually
will become acidic, but the lining is acid-free), and a more
expensive tan or light colored box which is entirely acid- and
- Specialty boxes: archival catalogues carry many different shapes
and sizes of (usually acid free) cardboard boxes for storing all
kinds of materials. There are flat boxes for albums, photographs,
and drawings. There are special boxes, and folders, for maps,
blueprints, newspapers, and other oversized materials. There are
boxes in different sizes for upright storage of regular negatives,
glass negatives, postcards, videotapes, audiotapes, and film.
- When packing boxes, never overfill them with papers. Removing
anything from boxes stuff tightly with materials inevitably contributes
to damage or destruction.
Those who create records may be individuals working alone or project
staff. Both researchers in projects or independent work should plan
the practicalities of record creation before they begin. Project directors
should make sure all colleagues have the same basic information and
materials for long-lasting paper, photographic, and audiovisual records.
Projects frequently have guidelines and requirements for depositing
the products of research. At the end of a project, the final responsibility
is to send the records, properly organized and identified, to the
archival repository which has been specified by the grant or institution.
If no repository is specified or suggested, consult Bulletin No. 4.
References and Resources
CoPAR Bulletin No. 2, Taking Stock of Your
CoPAR Bulletin No. 3, Easy Steps for Preserving
your Anthropological Records
CoPAR Bulletin No. 4, Finding a Home for Your
CoPAR Bulletin No. 5, Organizing and Transferring
CoPAR Bulletin No. 9, Some Ethical Issues
to Consider When Depositing Your Records
CoPAR Bulletin No. 11, Locating Archival
CoPAR Bulletin No. 12, Basic Steps in Preservation
Northeast Document Conservation Center
For photographs and film:
Henry Wilhelm, 1993. The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs:
Traditional and Digital Color Prints, Color Negatives, Slides, and
Motion Pictures. Grinnell, Iowa; Preservation Publishing Company.
The Image Permanence Institute
http://www.rit.edu Contact at:
For Audio and Video tapes:
Commission on Preservation and Access, and
The National Media Laboratory
William R. Nugent, 1995.‘Compact Discs and other Digital
Optical Discs.’ In Storage of Natural History Collections:
A Preventive Conservation Approach. York, PA: Society for the
Preservation of Natural History Collections.
Sources for information and publications:
Society of American Archivists
click Catalogue for publications;
Phone: (312) 922-0140
ARMA (an association for information management professionals)
National Archives and Records Administration
Written by Willow Roberts Powers
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to Preserving Anthropological Records
for the Preservation of Anthropological Records